Saturday, February 13, 2010

Dionysus or Bacchus

Dionysus and Hercules, although born of mortal mother's, are associated in the assembly of the immortal gods. Yet, Dionysus is by far the higher, the more divine person. From the beginning, the plenitude of his being is revealed; and from his very birth, he is ranked among the celestials, while Hercules, by bold deeds and invincible valor, must prepare himself the path to immortality. For this reason, too, the latter, during his life time, was ranked only among the god-like heroes; while Dionysus was always entitled to the society of the gods.

The archetype of Dionysus( the reproductive force of nature, of which wine is the symbol) was the inward swelling fullness of nature, typified in the foaming cup, from which she bestows animating enjoyment on the initiated. The worship of Dionysus, therefore, like that of Demeter was mysterious; for both deities are the emblems of the whole of nature, which no mortal eye penetrates.

The fiction of the birth of Dionysus contains a deep meaning. The jealous Hera, appeared to his mother in the character of an old woman, instigated by the daughter of Cadmos to express the extravagant wish of enjoying Zeus in his divine character. Semole accordingly, first desired the Thunderer to swear compliance to the request she was about to make to him, and when he had taken the oath by Styx, was compelled to approach her by thunder and lightning, fell a sacrifice to her rash request. Zeus snatched from her his son Dionysus, yet unborn, and placed him in his thigh, where he remained til the regular time of his birth. Mortality is destroyed ere immortality rises. Man, during his lifetime on earth, not being able to bear the glory of divinity, is annihilated by its terrible majesty.

At the birth of the child, Zeus gave him the name of Dionysus, and sent him by Hermes to Ino, sister to Semele, with directions to rear him; but Hera, whose revenge was not yet satiated, caused Athamas, the husband of Ino, to go mad, Zeus, to save Dionysus from the machinations of Hera, changed him into a kid, under which form Hermes conveyed him to the nymphs of Nysa, who were to take charge of his education, and by whom he was reared with the greatest tenderness.

In his boyhood, Dionysus, as if yet half reeling in sweet slumber, does not comprehend the fullness of his being, and appears apprehensive of injuries inflicted by men, until his formidable power suddenly reveals itself through miraculous events. Lycurgus, king of Edones, a people of Thrace, surprised the nurses of Dionysus on Mount Nysa, and wounded several of them. The terrified Dionysus threw himself into the sea, when Thetis took him up in her arms; but he avenged himself by driving Lycurgus mad, when he killed his own son, Dryas with a blow of an axe, mistaking him for a vine branch. His subjects afterwards bound him and left him on Mount Pangaeon, where he was destroyed by wild horses, for such was the will of Dionysus.

When Dionysus grew up, he discovered the culture of the vine, and the mode of extracting its precious liquor; but Hera struck him with madness, and in this state he roamed through a great part of Asia. In Phrygia he was met by Rhea, who cured him, and taught him her religious rites, which he resolved to introduce into Greece. In his course he met with various adventures.

At one time a body of pirates, who took him for the son of a king, in the hope of obtaining a large ransom, carried him off and placed him on board their ship. No sooner, however, had they left the shore, then the cords with which the smiling boy was fastened fell off, and a fragrant stream of wine ran through the ship; then suddenly a vine rose to the top-sail, which expanded its branches, loaded with heavy grapes: the mast became entwined with dark ivy, and all the oars were covered with vine leaves. On the deck of the vessel a terrible lion made its appearance, casting around him fierce, threatening glances; terror seized the offenders, who leaped from the ship into the raging sea, where suddenly appearing as swimming dolphins, they bore witness to the power of the all conquering deity.

When Dionysus reached Thebes, the women readily received the new rites, ran wildly through the woods of Cithaeron. Pentheus, the ruler of Thebes, set himself against them; but Dionysus caused him to be torn to pieces by his mother and aunts. The daughters of Minyas, Leucippe, Aristippe, and Alcathoe, also despised his rites, and continued plying their looms, while the other women ran through the mountains. Dionysus appeared to them as a maiden and remonstrated, but in vain; he then assumed the form of various wild beasts; serpents filled their baskets; vines and ivy twined round their looms, while wine and milk distilled from the roof; still their obstinacy was unsubdued. He finally drove them mad, when they tore to pieces the son of Leucipp, and then went roaming through the mountains, till Hermes touched them with his wand, and changed them into a bat, an owl, and a crow.

Dionysus next proceeded to Attica, where he taught Icarios the culture of the vine. Icarios having made wine, gave it to some shepherds, who, thinking thinking themselves poisoned, killed him,; recovering themselves, they buried him. His daughter, Erigone, being shown the spot by his faithful dog Maera, hung himself through grief.

At Argos the rites of Dionysus were received by the woman as at Thebes, and opposed by Perseus, the son of Zeus and Danae; Zeus, however, reduced his two sons to amity, and Dionysus thence passed over tom Naxos, where he met with Ariadne. Afterwards he descended to Erebos, whence he brought his mother, whom he named Thyone, and ascended with her to the abode of the gods.

The expedition of Bacchos to India, is a beautiful and sublime fiction. With an army of both men and women, who advanced with joyful tumult, he extended his beneficent conquests as far as the Ganges, teaching the conquered nations the cultivation of the vine, together with a higher enjoyment of life, and giving them laws. In the divine person of Bacchos, men revered the more cheerful delights of life, as a particular, sublime being, who, under the form of an eternally flourishing youth, subdues lions and tigers that draw his chariot, and who, in divine ecstasy, accompanied by the sounds of flutes and timbrels, proceeds in triumph, from east to west, through all countries.

The victorious expedition, undertaken for the benefit of the nations of earth, was accomplished by Bacchos in three years; for which reason the festivals afterwards instituted in remembrance of it, were always celebrated after the same interval of time. Then, the joyful tumult which accompanied the march of the god through the earth was repeated, and celebrated anew from every hill and mountain. The priestesses of the god of wine, roaming with dishevelled hair upon the mountains, filled the air with the noise proceeding from the beating of timbrels, playing upon flutes, &c., and the wild, continual cry, of Euoi! Bacche! The threatening thyrses in their hands, from which the colored ribbons waved, while the pineapple on its top concealed the wounding point, is an emblem of the expedition to India; on occasion of which, the clamor of war and din of battle was hidden under song and the sound of musical instruments.

Mythologists differ in opinion as to the origin of Bacchos. Creutzer and others consider his worship as evidently of eastern origin, and that he is identified with the Osiris of the Egyptian and the Siva of India. The fable of his birth, and his strange translation to the thigh of the monarch of Olympus, bear the impress of oriental imagery. An ivy branch is made to spring forth from a column to cover him with its leaves when he is taken from his mother, and the Ivy was in Egypt the plant of Osiris. In like manner, the coffin of the Egyptian deity is shaded by the plant erica, which springs from the ground and envelopes it. Bacchus and Osiris both float upon the waters in a chest, or ark, and both have one of their symbols the head of a bull.

The Lingam and equilateral triangle, symbols of Bacchus, were also symbols of Siva. The two systems of worship have the same obscenities and the same emblems. Siva is represented, in the Hindu mythology, as assuming the form of a lion during the great battle of the gods. He seizes the monster that attacks him with his teeth and fangs, while Dourga pierces him with his lance. In the Grecian Mythology, the same exploit is attributed to Bacchus, under the same form, against the giant Rhoetos.

The Grecian festivals, in honor of Dionysus, called Dionysia, were observed at Athens with more splendor and superstition than in any other part of Greece. The years were numbered by their celebration, the archon assisted at their solemnity, and the priests who officiated were honored with the most dignified seats at the public games. They were at first celebrated with great simplicity, and the time was consecrated to mirth. It was then usual to bring vessel full of wine, adorned with a vine branch, after which followed a goat, a basket of figs, and other emblems. In imitation of the poetical fictions of Dionysus, his worshipers were clothed in fawn skins, fine linen, and mitres, and crowned themselves with garlands of ivy, vine, and fir, and carried thyrses, drums, pipes, and flutes. Some in the uncouth manner of their dress, and their fantastic motions, imitated Pan, Silenos, and the Satyrs; and some rode on asses, while others drove the goats to slaughter for the sacrifice, and in this manner both sexes joined in the solemnity, and ran about the hills and country, nodding their heads, dancing in ridiculous postures, and filling the air with hideous shrieks and shouts, crying Bacce! Io! Io! Euo! Iacche! etc. beating on drums and sounding various instruments.

With such solemnities were the Greek festivals of Bacchus celebrated. In of these a procession was formed, bearing the various emblems of his worship; and among them a select number of noble virgins baskets of gold, filled with all kinds of fruit; serpents were sometimes put in the baskets, and by their wreathing and crawling out amused and astonished the beholders. This was the most mysterious part of the solemnity.

These festivals, in honor of the god of wine, contributed much to the corruption of morals among all classes of people. They were introduced into Etruria, and from thence to Rome, where both sexes promiscuously joined in the celebration during the darkness of the night; but their vicious excess called for the interference of the senate, who passed a decree, banishing the Baccanalia for ever from Rome.

The women who bore a chief part in these festivals were called Moenades, Baccha, Thyiade, and Euades.

As the god of wine, Bacchos is generally represented crowned with vine and ivy leaves, with a thyrse(the ruse) in his hand. His figure is that of an effeminate man.

The golden horns upon the head of Bacchus, which by the plastic art of the Greeks were either entirely hidden, or partly concealed, are a token of the high antiquity of this god; such horns have been in the remotest times connected with the ideas of inward, divine power.

Among animals, the spotted panther is sacred to Bacchus; fierceness, nay,even cruelty is tamed by him, and cringes at his feet; and he is said to have been clothed in the skin of this animal on his expedition to India. The ever verdant ivy, and the snake which casting its skin renews itself, are pleasing emblems of perpetual youth; in which the divine form of Bacchus resembles that of Apollo, only with this difference - the former is represented as more delicate and feminine. His beauty is compared to that of Apollo, and both are represented with fine hair flowing loosely on the shoulders.

The thyrse was one of the most common and ancient attributes of Bacchus and his joyous crew. It consisted of a lance, the iron point of which was concealed in a pine cone, in memory of the stratagem of his followers in concealing their pikes. It was used at all the festivals held in his honor, and often twined with wreaths of ivy or bay.